Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On Loyalty

Ever since the girls over at Dinged Corners posted a message about loyalty, I have been pondering the subject in my mind. Specifically, for me, is my loyalty to the Indians and loyalty I have to certain players, whether or not they are (or ever were) in an Indians uniform.

I am going to start with the Indians. Long-time readers will know that I first came to be aware of the Cleveland Indians as a child. My father's parents lived in Cleveland when I was a kid (they lived in Pittsburgh before that). Now, we're talking about the time period just before the Steelers and the Pirates were dominating sports in the late 70's. I would say I was probably 5 or 6 years old, which puts that at about 1975 or so. My grandfather was a civil engineer and for whatever reason, I thought it was important to try and draw the Indians logo as best I could for him. At that age, it was not pretty. But, into the 80's, I got better at it, and my fandom for the Tribe grew even though I had never seen a game on television and had never seen them play in person. I grew up watching the Tribe change through the cards I collected. Throughout the years, my love for the team has never wavered, though how much I actually paid attention surely did (girls, school, etc). But why even remain loyal to a team that, let's be honest, sucked for much of the history to which I am most closely connected?

Of course I can only speak for myself, but I associate the Tribe with my grandparents, especially my grandfather. I have no idea if he even cared one iota about the Indians, but he lived in Cleveland, and that's what I joined together. He passed away when I was young (1980), and for whatever reason, that trauma led me even further into loyalty to the Tribe. Over time, I had amassed a sizable collection of Indians cards for a teenager and I just kept at it off an on. While collecting players of my time, I also loved the history of the Cleveland team, learning about the players like Doby, Feller, Boudreau, and Garcia. Mike Garcia, according to something my Dad once told me, was a friend of the family, though I do not recall any occasions in which we met him.

The other thing that has fed my loyalty are the gifts I have received over the years - picture frames, miniature stadium replicas, posters, cards, other Indians memorabilia. I used to be an avid Coca-Cola collector and still have a bunch of the stuff in a shed. I will be selling much of that on eBay just to get rid of it. But, my Indians stuff is much more personal to me. I genuinely get excited when I get something new for my collection, and as I get older, it seems to be more the case.

Perhaps it is a deep-seeded connection I feel to my grandparents or maybe a connection to the great American pasttime itself. The Indians have gone through many years of absolute suckage and a few years where they were on top or very close to it. They are not the greatest by any stretch, and for me, that is part of the appeal. The Indians are a lot like me - I have my good times and my bad. And, so far in my lifetime, they've always been right where they are...

I am a true-blue Indians fan. Sometimes I'm not sure if it's love or habit, but either way, I'm behind them all the way. That is not to say I'm actually a FANATIC, though. I do not know the complete history or all the stats or even who the 40-man roster is this year. And, I think that speaks more about team loyalty than anything else. Players come and go, but team continues on. While there are notable players on the team every year, most will likely be forgotten years after they either don a new uniform for another team or hang up their gloves forever.

And then, there are the players. And, by extension, other sports-related loyalties. For those that don't know, I was born and raised around Pittsburgh (born in "SouSide" and lived in "WessMifflin," Elizabeth, "Keesport" and various other places). I bleed Black-N-Gold - Steelers, Penguins, Pirates... I was in the 'burgh during the days of Spirit indoor soccer and we hung out with all the guys on the team all the time (my Dad was an MISL pro referee and Lee Pagano officiated with him and served as the team's caterer). I have very deep loyalty to the Steeltown, even though Steel hasn't been its 'thing' for many, many moons. But, that's an easy one - it is my hometown, my birthplace, my 'motherland' if you will. As I mentioned, I also grew up during the greatest era of Pittsburgh sports history (in my opinion) and sports figures: Clemente, Stargell, Bradshaw, Swann, Lambert, Harris.

So, what about other players? It is no secret that I have been a HUGE Thome fan since he first came on the scene. He's not an Indians player now, nor has he been one for quite a while. Yet, I feel loyalty there to him. Why? Partly because I enjoy watching him play. Partly out of admiration (more on that in a bit). How about non-Tribers altogether? I have a collection of baseball cards of players that I like to collect (some for no concrete reason I can think of): Jose Canseco, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, JR Richard, Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, Nolan Ryan, Tony Gwynn, Darryl Strawberry, Goose Gossage, to name a handful though the list is actually much much longer. Why? Some of these guys are admitted 'roiders. Yes, a lot are HOFers. Others I like had little-to-no MLB career. Yet, I am compelled to take note when I hear their name or find one of their cards.

For the bulk of the players I feel loyal to, the main reason is that those players (at one time anyway) represented something I either saw in myself or WANTED to see in myself. Living vicariously, I suppose then. Some of it is pure admiration, and some is respect. The difference? I admire Thome for going out there day after day, hovering just below the radar for the longest time as the most under-rated 1st baseman in the league (imo). I respect Griffey Jr for his ability to come back, and keep coming back, after injury and everything else. I do not feel loyalty to Griffey though. Why not? Maybe because I never felt any kind of connection to him. To me, he's a lot like the Beatles... I respect what the Beatles did, but I also believe there was a huge marketing ploy behind their success and popularity. I never cared for the Beatles. That's how I see Junior... He deserves respect, I just don't feel any loyalty there.

Loyalty is such a strange beast. Take C.C. Sabathia, for example. As a Triber, I loved to watch him. Once he left, though, I never really paid much attention unless someone sent me one of his Tribe cards. How about Hafner, Victor Martinez, Cliff Lee? Honestly, I can't say. I will probably develop a Lee loyalty because he's from Benton (about 75 miles from where I live), so there is a "connection" there. Other players, like Papelbon, Hamilton, Jeter, etc, are high on my "I enjoy watching" list, but do I feel 'loyal' to them? No. Once their careers are over, I will most likely not collect their cards or look to see what they're up to. And, despite this soul-searching entry, I still have no idea why or why not.

Reading back over this, I have at least expounded on where the loyalty to the Indians began. Though, what continues to give it life is beyond my own understanding. It is a part of who I am.

All I know is that when I think of the Tribe, I couldn't be more proud to be a loyal, devoted fan. And, that's good enough for me.


  1. Nice post! Your loyalty to the Tribe is all of those things. Seinfeld says we're all rooting for laundry, but that's not it at all. We're rooting for team history, for family history, for players we admire and for characteristics we admire, for cities, for communities, for what we liked about our childhood. All of that, wrapped up in a ball team!

  2. Well said. I grew up a Phillies fan is Central Jersey. My dad was a lifelong fan and he passed it on to me. NJ is an interesting place...Phillies, Mets, and Yankees fans all collide.

    As I watch the Phils battle for a playoff berth for the second year in the row, the only thing on my mind is my dad. He would have loved this crop of Phillies.